After makeup artist Jillian Rezo was diagnosed with breast cancer, she teamed up with her friend Michele Bonacort, a former model turned photographer, for a series of glamorous photoshoots. With Jillian wearing gowns and full makeup and Michele behind the camera, the two women — who have been friends since their early 20s — discovered the transformative power of what they call "phototherapy."
Reclaiming self confidence and self acceptance through glamorous photoshoots became the basis of Beautiful Self Org, a non-profit that empowers breast cancer survivors to reclaim their beauty. We talked with Jillian and Michele about Beautiful Self Org and what Beauty from Within means to them:
Tell us why you decided to start Beautiful Self Org.
Jillian: Through my own journey with breast cancer, Michele and I witnessed the devastating changes a breast cancer survivor experiences. Through diagnosis and into treatment, there is a tremendous support system, and there are wonderful organizations that rally around those active in treatment. But there is also a forgotten community that suffers in silence, after initial treatment is over, and the long haul sets in, once you are labeled a survivor...
Just because our hair grows back and you don’t see our scars, doesn’t mean we aren’t struggling. For many survivors and metastatic fighters there is long-term physical, emotional, social, and psychological trauma. Things like massive body changes, scars, staying flat, early menopause, weight gain, anxiety, depression, lymphedema, rapid aging, and chronic secondary health issues, just to name a few.
While grateful to be alive, these things can cause a survivor to no longer accept herself as beautiful or whole, causing her to retreat and wait to return to the person she once was.
But that person is gone, and we must learn to accept and love ourselves for who we are today. Beautiful Self empowers breast cancer survivors and stage IV fighters to thrive in their Now Self.
What's one thing you wish you knew about starting your own organization that you didn't know at the time?
Jillian: How difficult it is to raise money for a non-profit. As a non-profit, our services are complementary to a survivor who seeks out our brand of therapy. Her full day session with us, images, documentation, and all the little things in-between are to assist her through her healing process. We are also consistently informing and inspiring survivors, fighters, and supporters.
On the back end, it’s still a business, and businesses are tough to run when you have to search and plead for the funding to keep the doors open. We knew it would be hard, but not this hard! Covid has put us in a very dangerous place, as donors and companies have had to pull back 100%. But we will continue to fight because the community needs us!
What's one piece of beauty or wellness advice you wish everyone knew?
Jillian: Beauty comes in so many forms, styles, and ages. Attitude and confidence are the sexiest, most magnetic things you can own. It's all about what you radiate from the inside, out.
Michele: Listen and observe your body. Rest when your body tells you to.
What's your favorite way to relax?
Jillian: I love to be in bed with a glass of wine and reading a biography on old Hollywood, or binge watching something on Netflix. I’m a lazy cat when I’m allowed to be!
Michele: Nurturing my bamboo and gardening with the birds early in the morning while the outside world is quiet. Plus, dance breaks throughout the day.
What's your go-to 707 Flora product and how do you like to use it?
Jillian: I use everything, it’s all incredible skincare, but the one product I’m obsessed with is 707 Balm. I use it for everything and on everyone. It’s awesome for hydrating little things during the day like around the crow's feet. It’s perfect for lips. I dab a little all over for glow and hydration, or I mix a little with liquid bronzer for glistening skin or to create the glass skin effect. I love it and would bathe in it if I could!
Michele: I added the CBD + Turmeric Tincture to my day for a sustained, happy calm. Very useful while one son is home from college and the other is learning to drive.
What does "Beauty from Within" mean to you?
Jillian: Beauty changes constantly. Yes, there are those blessed with certain features or bone structure that are deemed beautiful, but that’s a standard set by someone else’s rules. Beauty is how you feel, your style, your charisma, and the way you make other people feel. That’s true beauty, and that can only come from the inside.
Michele: And that’s why Beautiful Self exists: to remind how beautiful you are right now.
Click here to make a donation to Beautiful Self Org.
Join us for a Q&A Live with 707 Flora Co-Founder Joan Sutton and Jillian Rezo & Michele Bonacort of Beautiful Self Org Tuesday 5/25 at 9am PST! Head to Beautiful Self Org on Instagram or Facebook to tune in.